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CHAPTER FOUR

Emily groaned and reached for her newly issued phone buzzing on the nightstand. She squinted at the screen. Her new boss. Shit. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she hit the green Answer button and cleared her throat. “Emily Patrick,” she said. Should she also say American Embassy? Was she expected to be on call at … what time was it anyway?


“Emily, it’s Jack,” came her boss’s voice, raspy with a hint of sleep. Whatever it was had woken him, too.


“Yes, sir,” she said, “how can I help you, sir?”


“You don’t have to be so formal outside the office, Em. I mean, I’m still your dad’s best friend and we’ve known each other a long time.”


“Uh, okay. What time is it Jack?”


“Just before midnight. Look, I need you to take a drive down to Las Flores.”


“In Mexico?”


“That’s the one.”


She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep. “Tonight?”


“Right now. How soon can you be ready?”


She shook her head again, glancing around her tiny apartment and wondered if she’d need to pack anything. “Uh, half an hour?”


“Not soon enough. Pull on some clothes and get on the road. I’ll be in touch with details later.”


“Is this for real, Jack?”


“Look, an American citizen was in an accident down there tonight. He’s in the hospital and I need someone with him. I realize you’ve only been on the job one day, but—”


“I’m on it, Jack,” she said, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “The border should be quiet this late. I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”


“Good.”


“What do I need to know?”


“His name is Sandal Steeves, he was in some kind of explosion and he’s in the emergency department in Las Flores. Get down there, make sure they’re taking good care of him, wait to hear from me.”


“Got it.” She snagged the black jeans she’d abandoned in the easy chair when she’d tumbled into bed barely an hour before. She’d fallen asleep fast and hard. Her first day at the Embassy had been a whirlwind of introductions and briefings. Cartons of half-eaten Chinese take-out littered the coffee table as she searched for her personal cell in the dim light of her bedside lamp. “Jack…”


“Yes?”


“Thanks for putting your confidence in me.”


“You’ve got the creds, girl. Now, get on the road.” He hung up and she stuffed the phone into her back pocket before pulling on socks she’d left discarded near the TV. Returning to the closet, she rummaged for a clean t-shirt, pulled a gray hoodie on over it and stepped into the bathroom where she scrubbed her hands over her face and tied her long brown hair into a pony tail. Good enough. 


On her way out the door, she turned to snag her toothbrush off the counter and threw it into a small black leather backpack along with a couple of granola bars which she grabbed from the ever-present box on what served as her kitchen counter. Before stepping into the night, she took one last look around her crowded, untidy studio apartment and shrugged. With this job, she’d make enough money to get a decent place to live.


Her car, a nondescript white Toyota sedan that looked like every other damn white four-door sedan on the road, was parked at the end of the lot. She sprinted over, threw her pack in the front passenger seat and turned left out of the lot toward the freeway. 


This late on a week night, there weren’t many people moving about which made getting to the border easier. Inside of twenty minutes, the I-5 spit her out at the border and she was inching toward the control booth. One of the things she’d done this morning, as part of a mountain of other administrative forms, was fill out an application for a Nexus pass so she could pass quickly and without hindrance back and forth. Jack had said she’d often be in Tijuana and the Baja, but she wouldn’t have guessed she’d be there in the twelve hours that followed. 


Tijuana was one of the busiest border crossings in the world, and a normal day could see waits up to three hours. Thank God things were moving a little more quickly tonight. When she pulled alongside the booth, the customs official sidled up to her window. 


“Where you going this late at night, Miss?”


“Down to Las Flores to see a friend in the hospital.” She passed him her identification and he glanced down at the photo then back at her.


“Pretty late to be driving down that coast road on your own,” he said. “You’re not nervous about it?”


Great, well I wasn’t nervous about it. “I’ll be fine,” she replied, wishing he’d just let her go. “I know the road well.” 


“All right. Have a safe drive, miss.”


She pulled away slowly, eye on the side-view mirror. Something about crossing the border always made her nervous and a little guilty. Like she’d done something, even when she hadn’t. Probably stemmed from her mis-spent youth running back and forth to Tijuana so they could drink under-age. 


Fortunately, her cross-border drinking trips meant she did know her way around the city. Still, she kept her wits about her and focused on getting farther down the highway and into the outskirts as quickly as possible. Knowing your way around wasn’t the same as being invincible and Tijuana could be a scary place after dark. 


Plugging her iPod into the dash, she chose a playlist and settled back in her seat. She was fully awake now and wondered about the man she was going to babysit. Who was he? What kind of explosion had he been in? It was 1:00 on the dot and the highway was mostly deserted. She should be in Las Flores before three. She’d have to curb her curiosity until then.